Universal Monsters in Review: She-Wolf of London (1946)
I sooooo wanted this movie to be amazing. And maybe it was and I just didn’t get it. I loved the concept, the idea of a woman werewolf, almost akin to 1942’s Cat People, in which by a curse, the person may transform into a large cat in the heat of passion. Movies like Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People and The Leopard Man (1943) are basically about suppressed sexuality and the notion of the time that if you explore such things you’ll be “transformed” by your passions to these lustful violent creatures. Maybe I had expected something like that with She-Wolf of London (aka THE CURSE OF THE ALLENBYS) because what is a werewolf story other than the idea of uncontrollable emotions coming out of us like wild things. I will give director Jean Yarbrough some credit in how he somewhat kept the “Greek tragedy” aspect in werewolf lore. Everything else seemed to fall flat. Painfully so. Even the very superb acting of June Lockhart, Don Porter, and Sara Haden could not salvage the film. There was too much expectation, and not enough fulfillment. But, these are just my own ramblings. Lets see what our honored guest has to say regarding She-Wolf of London.
THE FOGGIEST FOG THAT EVER FOGGED
By: Michelle Garza
As a little girl my mom would always watch the black and white Universal classics with me and my sister, it was my introduction to horror. Being a child of the desert (I was born and raised in Arizona) I was always fascinated by the scenes, though they were created in a studio, of foggy locations. She-wolf of London did not disappoint in that aspect. It was some of the foggiest fog that ever fogged. There was only one time that I had ever seen fog like that in real life and it was created by a fog machine at a death metal show.
The tale takes place in London at the turn of the century. It follows the story of a young woman named Phyllis Allenby, she is set to wed a wealthy lawyer by the name of Barry but as a murder starts killing and mutilating innocent people not far from her inherited estate it brings to light the rumors of a family curse…one involving lycanthropy. She believes that the curse has caught up to her. Phyllis tries to call off her engagement, keeps to herself and only talks about her worries to her aunt Martha at first. The aunt is a shady hag to begin with who treats her house woman, Hannah, like a total bitch and won’t let her daughter Carol have a boyfriend if he’s not rolling in the dough. “Aunt” Martha secretly admits to her daughter that she is not really Phyllis’s aunt and if the young woman marries Barry Martha and Carol could lose their home in the Allenby estate. All the while Phyllis spirals into madness truly believing she is the beast when her Aunt’s dogs try to attack her and howl all night long it only points to her worst fear being true. She keeps a lantern outside of her window to ward away evil as told by an old Scottish wives’ tale, yet she keeps awakening to find her clothes muddy and her hands bloody. The thoughts of herself becoming a beast and ripping people apart eats away at her.
Let’s talk about some things that might make a person laugh, those silly horror movie moments that in my opinion can add to the awesomeness of older flicks…the giggle factor. I am a lover of horror in all degrees from the super serious, scare the crap out of you, to the super cheesy b movies, to the classics that in their time were closer to the first mentioned, it was on these foundations that we built the majesty of the horror genre. For instance, she finds her shoes covered in mud, the shoes are super girly with heels, it made me laugh. If I was going out to eat people, I certainly would choose different footwear…yet I suppose the beast isn’t particularly worried about fashion or comfort when its howling to bust out and since it was the turn of the century that was the proper attire of a young woman no matter if a bloodthirsty beast dwelled within her. There are the typical investigators, one that thinks the killer is either an animal or deranged person while the second believes it to be a female werewolf, he meets a tragic end in his quest to prove the nonbeliever wrong. Carol, the supposed cousin, is in love with a man of lower station and so sneaks out during the night to tryst with him…leaving the audience thinking that she could be the she-wolf herself. It builds an old timey sense of suspicion, though later the ending doesn’t really come as a shock. What may come as a shock is you NEVER see a werewolf in this flick!!!!
Barry finally gets Phyllis to admit her worries, she confesses that she has terrible nightmares of pagan rites being performed and becoming a wolf. He won’t accept that his woman is refusing to get hitched because of some story about a family curse. He sits outside of her house one night to try to discover if she actually is a werewolf. He sees a woman draped in a cloak, her face is concealed. He follows her and loses her in the foggiest fog that ever fogged. A man cries out as he is attacked by a veiled woman, she escapes, he claims it was some psycho woman that growled like an animal, moments later Carol approaches the victim that happens to be her boyfriend and claims she was out to meet with her love in secret…even though there is a murderer on the loose.
This part struck a chord within my werewolf loving heart and I recalled the book the were-wolf by Clemence Housman, it tells the story of White Fell, a beautiful stranger that comes between two brothers, she was tall and fair…and happened to be a werewolf. I’m not insinuating that Universal copied the story, I’m just noting that they are parallel. She was cloaked and stunning much like our She-wolf of London, spreading terror throughout a community, killing children and inciting strife between loved ones. A tale as old as time…beauty concealing the beast.
The figure is shown a few times during the movie, actually in the goriest scene of the film the veiled She-wolf stalks a member of Scotland yard, Latham, the only guy that believes in werewolves, and slashes his throat open. Though it is black and white you can see that his neck is bloodied. He tries to scream for the constable but it is too late, it must have been shocking for a film in nineteen forty-six. Movies like these opened doors for women characters, they could be more than just matronly or wholesome, they could be alluring, they could be deadly…they could be real. I love to see that in the older movies.
Each time Phyllis hears the news about innocent people being murdered, then finds her clothes soiled the next morning she really believes that she is a monster, a ravening beast hidden beneath the layers of lace and silk. At last she confides in Carol and begs her to get the police because she wants someone to stop her from murdering people. While Carol is out of the house Martha comes to bring Phyllis a glass of warm milk, something she does nightly. By this point most people will already connect the dots and it is no shock to find out that her aunt has been going out at night and pretending to be a she-wolf. She had been drugging Phyllis (que old-school watery effect to the film that symbolizes being whacked out of your mind) and committing heinous crimes in hopes that Phyllis would be blamed because of the family curse and the poor girl basically tells her fiancé and her cousin that she is the monster in her hysteria. Martha then pulls a knife saying she would kill Phyllis and claim that she ended her own life.
Here’s where people should remember a few very important lessons that were probably already taught to them at some point in their life by either a parent or through their own foolish error…
Lesson number one: ALWAYS BE KIND TO THE STAFF. (This includes housekeepers, cooks, gardeners etc.) I was a custodian for fourteen years and believe me when I say the vengeance they can reap is quite dirty. Martha learns this the harsh way when she finds out that standing outside of the door while she confesses her crimes and then tells Phyllis she is going to kill her is the house woman, Hannah, the same woman that Martha treated like a walking turd. Hannah pushes the door open and Martha discovers that she is a witness to her confession. The old house woman tells her she has been watching Martha’s odd behavior and now threatens to fetch the police. Martha chases after Hannah, wielding a knife. They run down a sweeping staircase in the luxurious Allenby estate and Martha trips.
Lesson number two: NEVER RUN WITH SHARP OBJECTS. Martha falls on her own knife; it is driven into her gut as she tumbles down the steps of the house that she coveted so much she would kill to get to keep living there. She dies as the housekeeper opens the door, revealing the police and Barry who just arrived with Carol so that Phyllis can confess that she was the killer. Hannah tells them that Martha is the she-wolf. The ending comes as Barry rushes to his woman’s side, she is drugged and frightened but he assures her that Martha will never kill anyone ever again.
Although I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see a she-wolf going through some awesome stop motion wolfing, I still enjoyed watching it. It was more about the psychological horror of a young woman believing that she was losing herself, becoming something so terrible that she just couldn’t continue with her life it happened to be true. I think at some point most people deal with that on some level and that, my friends, is why we need horror. Whether it scares you, grosses you out or makes you giggle, it forces you to see those dark things that lurk in the real world and you become stronger for facing them.
Michelle Garza, one half of the writing team based out of Arizona. Her sister, Melissa Lason, and Ms. Garza have been dubbed The Sisters of Slaughter by the editors at Fireside Press. Since a young age they have enjoyed crafting tales of the dark and macabre. Their work has been included in anthologies such as WIDOWMAKERS a benefit anthology of dark fiction, WISHFUL THINKING by Fireside press and soon to be published REJECTED FOR CONTENT 3 by JEA. To be included in FRESH MEAT 2015 is an incredible honor for the sisters. Later this year, their debut novel, Mayan Blue, releases with Sinister Grin Press. You can keep track of Michelle budding writing career by following her on Twitter and Facebook.